What are conservative Evangelicals to do with Pastor Mark Driscoll? He is one of the most polarizing, admired, frustrating, revered, critiqued pastors in America – particularly in the blogosphere. He is a theologically conservative, doctrinally sound man who pastors a church of 6000+ members and growing. It appears that God is blessing his ministry. But he is, admittedly, somewhat of a loose cannon. Nowhere is this more evident than in his speech. Now he has done it again. 

Sometimes, for the sake of cultural relevance, clarity, humor, or even lack of common sense, people in the public square say things that they shouldn’t. Every pastor who speaks regularly to an audience of people has been guilty of saying something in a way that is unhelpful, irreverant, and perhaps even sinful. Mark Driscoll is just a man. He is a sinner saved by grace. He is a redeeemed sinner under the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit justified by God through the propitiation of the Son Jesus Christ. Even so, Driscoll surely recognizes that he is, for so many unbelievers and believers in the Lord Jesus in Seattle, as well as many in Western culture, the standard for what a follower of Jesus is supposed to say, do and think in the world.

In a video introduction for his new preaching series in Song of Solomon Driscoll crosses the line (in the spirit of humor) when talking about varying interpretations of Song of Solomon, saying that the cultural equivalent to interpreting the book as an allegory about the relationship between Jesus and the Church means that Mark is a gay man and Jesus keeps trying to make out with him. This kind of coarse joking and language invokes images that are at the very least spiritually unhelpful, and perhaps even blasphemous. (You can watch the video here. Disclaimer: You may find it very offensive.

This reminds me of a similar example of irresponsible language and imagery at a youth camp several years ago. After singing a song about bowing in humility before Jesus, the female worship leader proceeded give a word of what I would call prophecy (speaking the gospel contextually for spiritual encouragement and exhortation) to the female students. She told the girls that they should never bow down and give themselves to any man sexually because this was reserved for their husbands. The problem was that we had just lifted a song in worship to God about assuming the same kind of posture before Jesus that some troubled teenager searching for her identity through sexual gratification or favors might assume before the opposite sex. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife. This was, in my estimation, grossly irresponsible and unhelpful. While I don’t think she intended to formulate an inappropriate image in the minds of some in the audience, the damage was done.

We live in a media-driven, visual culture. It is nearly impossible to make sexually-charged jokes or comments, even when trying to speak in ways that are spiritual helpful, without invoking some kind of visual/mental response in the minds of your audience.  Even though Driscoll speaks frankly about the issues of sex and sexuality and their proper expression in covenant relationship of a man and a woman, I’m concerned that he doesn’t always consider that what may be relevant language may also be obscene, unprofitable, and sinful, precisely because it may lead others to sin. There is a holiness about sex and sexuality that should be reflected in the language that pastors use about God’s fantastic gift to humanity.

I applaud Driscoll for speaking so openly about sex and sexuality, and I admire his gumption and desire to speak biblically about these issues. The problem I have typically isn’t with his content; it’s the package that the content comes wrapped in. It is my prayer that godly men whom Driscoll respects will feel compelled to talk to him about how his tongue sometimes appears to be dangerously unbridled. Driscoll is a funny, sarcastic man, and generally speaking, funny, sarcastic people often get themselves in hot water with their choice of words. But this doesn’t excuse lack of verbal restraint. I really have no doubt that Driscoll loves Jesus. I’m just concerned that in his efforts to engage people with the gospel that sometimes he may not put a big enough filter over his mouth as he speaks the cultural lingo of the day.